Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Skeleton Quay written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: After returning to Victorian London, Jago and Litefoot are approached by the enigmatic Colonel and offered a role they cannot refuse – investigators by Royal Appointment to Queen Victoria! Their missions include a mystery on the Suffolk coast where strange things lurk in the sea mist, an encounter with Freud and a threat to the realm itself… But who can save Professor Litefoot when he is accused of murder, and no one can be convinced of his innocence?

Theatrical Fellow: 'Her Majesty? Corks!' As much as I enjoyed their perambulations in other times and places, there is something very satisfying about having Jago & Litefoot back on their home territory and off to solve a supernatural mystery. They are the heart and soul of this range and the period it is set in and whilst it is fun to shake the formula up from time to time it is always a relief to see them back at work in their natural setting. Jago is thrilled at the thought of being able to spend some time in the illustrious company of the Queen and given his service to her domain over the past five seasons I would say that an audience is the very least she could provide him with. He thinks that some official recognition for their services is long overdue. His recent experiences on Venus, the New Frontier of America and the 1960s are still playing on his mind and haunting him in his dreams. He has not been blessed with an athletic physique and yet he seems to keep getting dragged into escapades that requires one. He's not a strong simmer either. Camilla is declared a woman after his own heart when she offers Jago a warm place to rest and a brandy to lift his spirits. Whilst rolling a body off a cliff, Jago does the victim the honour of saying a few words for him.

Posh Professor: Litefoot strikes up an immediate rapport with Camilla but rather lets his mouth run away from him...awkwardly suggesting that she might be a prostitute and instantly apologising for the misunderstanding. He is finding that his memories are starting to fade, that their adventures together are starting to become something of a fog. Jago's easily pleased whereas it is clear that Litefoot is observing Camilla the whole time, fully aware that not everything adds up. He's quite the stickler for a tidy ending and justice when it needs to be dished out - when Camilla is herded towards the cliff edge by those her father killed he insists that Jago stands back let's justice be carried out. I rather like this dark side to his nature, I hope we see more of it.

Standout Performance: Francesca Hunt made a memorable appearance in the eighth Doctor adventure Other Lives, a performance I can still remember almost a decade after its release. She's just as strong in The Skeleton Quay playing a part that isn't a million miles away from her previous appearance and she is just as natural behind the microphone as ever. Her character isn't all she appears to be and she makes the transition from innocent victim to protector of a family secret with effortless aplomb.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'There is something about the sea that makes ones feel so small, so insignificant' - precisely the reason I love living on the coast.
'I've heard of ghost ships but not ghost pubs!' 'I wonder if they serve spirits?'
'Haunted by spectral skeletons and nearly taken at the flood!'
'In my experiences the more people you kill, the easier it is!'

Great Ideas: How the writers of this range continually strike upon such gorgeous ideas for adventures never ceases to amaze me. If you had told me that a Jago & Litefoot series had legs after their appearance in The Talons of Weng-Chiang I probably would have believed you. If you had told me that it would stretch to ten series and beyond, constantly bring out the best of any writer who contributes to the series and would be able to consistently allow its central characters to play comedy and drama without them ever getting boring...well I might have suggested that was suggesting credulity somewhat. But  it is the truth and this season looks like it is going to be hung on an idea as intriguing as that of series five (which took the Victorian duo forwards in time to the 1960s), that of Jago and Litefoot serving as ghost hunters for Queen Victoria. That's a notion so deliriously tempting it surprises me it has taken six years to bring it to fruition. They are being sent to investigate some mysterious sightings that have occurred on the Suffolk coast, a part of the country that has been overcome with expectedly dense sea fog. The fog comes in without warning, an icy chill filling the air and if the wind is the right direction you can hear the screams of the people who have died here. The truth behind the ghostly apparitions becomes unnervingly clear when we realise that the inn slipped into the sea when the cliff edge gave way to subsidence taking all those inside with it. A grisly fate. Shingle Cove fails to live up to its name, the shingle having been removed at an earlier date. Camilla's father had all the shingle transported to help build the dockyard that brought them their fortune. It left the sea wall dangerously exposed and resulting in the destruction of the village and death of all the inhabitants. He knew that it would cause a disaster and yet went ahead with it anyway, the blood of all of those innocents most definitely on his hands. Camilla has been trying to kill them ever since they arrived, something that is only apparent when it is pointed out! Her fate at the hands of the dead of those her father killed is beautifully apt. What on Earth is going on with Jago & Litefoot's memories? The reason that Her Majesty wanted the Suffolk coast mystery investigated was because they are testing a new experimental warship along that part of the coast...I can't help but feel that every story this season is going to run along similar lines with Jago & Litefoot performing duties that culminate in some dastardly scheme being cooked up the Crown. But what...?

Audio Landscape: Church bells, footsteps, Jago snoring, a train hooting through the countryside, seagulls screaming in the air, crashing waves, the ground giving way, the echoing depths of the miasma, a crackling fire, pub chatter, the tide coming in around Jago & Litefoot, rolling a body off a cliff, screaming ghosts coming out of the fog.

Isn't it Odd: I don't think we needed the additional twist about Issac being the fog...I rather like the idea of this being a revenge story with supernatural leanings. The dead returning to right a wrong.

Standout Scene: A ghostly inn appearing out of the fog filled with bar staff and customers that are all skeletons. I was wondering how Morris was going to justify his smirksome pun of a title and this was a very exciting way to do it. I would love to see this sort of supernatural madness filmed.

Result: An investigation into supernatural sea mist in a coastal town, yokels spinning a spooky yarn to get us in the mood, some genuinely creepy moments lost in the miasma, Jago & Litefoot on a mission from Queen Victoria herself and some delightful guest characters to get involved with and a story that is wrapped up simply and satisfyingly...Jago & Litefoot is back home on traditional ground and it is as confident as ever. Of all of Big Finish's output I find this the most reliable range of all. It rarely disappoints and even if a story isn't perhaps as interesting as the rest of the set there is always the charismatic performances of Benjamin and Baxter to enjoy and the ever reliable direction of Lisa Bowerman. The Skeleton Quay has nothing to worry about in that regard though, it knows exactly what it is doing (telling a spooky ghost story by the sea) and achieves chills and laughs in equal measures. I know this isn't a very fair observation to make to either series but this is precisely the sort of simple, ghoulish, characterful adventure I would like to see the television series of Doctor Who producing. The Doctor and his assistant being drawn into a creepy mystery at a seaside with no clever clever plotting and sex gags, just real characters to engage with and some terrifically creepy moments. But that's a complaint for another series. Jago & Litefoot is back doing what it does best, providing fantastic entertainment in a beautifully realised location and setting up lots of mystery for the season ahead. If you don't own this already, this is a must buy: 8/10

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